News & Reviews News Wire With two key Mexico rail gateways shut down, cross-border freight begins stacking up (updated)

With two key Mexico rail gateways shut down, cross-border freight begins stacking up (updated)

By Bill Stephens | December 18, 2023

Customs and Border Protection closed the Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, rail bridges this morning so staff could be diverted to migrant surges

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BNSF Railway Eagle Pass to Mexico rail
Bound for BNSF Railway trackage rights on Union Pacific, a Canadian National locomotive leads a northbound BNSF train across the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas, in May 2019. Bill Stephens

WASHINGTON — The temporary shutdown of the U.S.-Mexico railroad border crossings at Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, has thrown a kink into supply chains that demand reliability.

Eagle Pass and El Paso are the No. 2 and No. 3 rail gateways by volume, respectively.

Union Pacific says the closure has prompted it to place an embargo on Mexico-bound freight moving on 60 trains and being processed in more than 50 rail yards. “This traffic amounts to over 4,500 cars spanning 265,000 feet and weighing in excess of 420,000 tons being held north of the border,” railroad spokesman Mike Jaixen says. “There is an equivalent amount of northbound traffic currently held south of the border.”

UP and trackage-rights tenant BNSF Railway interchanged an average of 16 trains per day with Ferromex via Eagle Pass in October, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data. It’s a key route for Mexican beer, auto parts, finished vehicles, and appliances, among other commodities.

The same three railroads exchanged an average of 7.3 trains per day at El Paso in October, according to BTS data.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on Sunday night that it would temporarily close the Eagle Pass and El Paso rail gateways at 8 a.m. today as the agency shifts personnel to handle another surge in migrants crossing the border.

The top rail gateway, the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Laredo-Nuevo Laredo crossing, remains open. It handled 24 trains per day in October for CPKC and UP, according to BTS data.

“The urgency of reopening these crossings and restoring rail service between the two nations cannot be overstated,” Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies said in a statement today. “There are not separate U.S. and Mexican rail networks; there is only one interconnected North American rail network. Every day the border remains closed unleashes a cascade of delay across operations on both sides of the border, impacting customers and ultimately consumers.”

Railroads have worked closely with customs officials on both sides of the border to create an efficient and effective screening process, Jefferies says. “As CBP continues to address the exceptionally challenging humanitarian crisis, railroads urge CBP to also safeguard the nation’s supply chain from further disruption.”

UP says the border crossings — which handle 45% of the railroad’s U.S.-Mexico freight — should be reopened as quickly as possible.

“Union Pacific is in close communication with multiple government agencies and our customers, insisting the Eagle Pass and El Paso border crossings be reopened for the businesses and consumers relying on goods at this critical time for the economy,” Jaixen says. “The company understands the humanitarian crisis at hand, but migrants are not crossing the border on trains, and it is imperative the borders are opened as soon as possible.”

BNSF agreed.

“BNSF is committed to border security as well as protecting the U.S. economy. BNSF Railway was disappointed to learn that the Eagle Pass and El Paso border crossings have been closed, given how important the movement of goods by rail is for businesses, consumers and the economy, particularly with Christmas just days away,” spokesman Zak Andersen says. “We are in regular communication with CBP and other federal agencies urging both crossings be re-opened immediately. We are also working closely with our customers to meet their needs and to prevent further congestion stemming from the crossing closures. Every day of closure increases the impact to the supply chain for critical commodities, including automobiles, industrial products, and grain.”

The Eagle Pass rail gateway was shut for four days in September after Ferromex suspended operations for safety reasons due to a surge in migrants riding its freights to the border. Service resumed a day after a delegation of UP officials, led by CEO Jim Vena and President Beth Whited, met with officials in Eagle Pass.

CPKC, BNSF, UP, and Canadian National — and their respective intermodal customers — have been aiming to grow rail’s relatively small share of cross-border traffic. While intermodal traffic linking Mexico with the U.S. and Canada has been growing, truck traffic has been growing even faster.

The joint CN-UP-Ferromex Falcon Premium intermodal service uses the Eagle Pass gateway. BNSF and J.B. Hunt announced last month that they will shift their cross-border intermodal traffic to the Eagle Pass gateway effective Jan. 1.

Independent analyst Anthony B. Hatch says the shutdowns are a concern at a time when near-shoring is boosting manufacturing investment in Mexico as well as cross-border trade in North America.

And much like recent issues south of the border – including periodic protests blocking main lines, imposition of passenger service, and cancellation of contracted projects – the bridge closures should be considered a cost of doing business in Mexico, Hatch says.

The closure of the rail border crossings comes just days after a new short line sought regulatory approval to build a rail and highway bridge over the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass.

Green Eagle Railroad, a subsidiary of Puerto Verde Holdings, aims to build a new 19.12-mile secure cross-border corridor that includes 1.335 miles of double track between UP’s Clark’s Park Yard and a new double-track span over the Rio Grande, followed by a 17.79-mile single-track line to Ferromex’s Rio Escondido Yard in Piedras Negras.

The corridor would be fenced, include customs processing facilities, and have no grade crossings because it would bypass the urban centers of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. Green Eagle hopes to divert UP and BNSF traffic off the current bridge to its proposed route.

Note: Updated at 10:20 a.m. Central with comment from AAR and analyst Anthony B. Hatch. Updated at 11:30 a.m. to increase the percentage of UP cross-border traffic affected by the gateway closures, based on the latest information from the railroad. Updated at 1 p.m. Central with comment from BNSF.

Two of Union Pacific’s gateways to Mexico remain shut down today on orders of Customs and Border Protection. BNSF Railway uses Eagle Pass via trackage rights on UP, while it has its own crossing in El Paso, which also is shut down. UP

22 thoughts on “With two key Mexico rail gateways shut down, cross-border freight begins stacking up (updated)

  1. Its about time, close the border completely, finish the wall, the only way in is though the port of entry. Secure our border. Very sad that our government this administration has allow this to happen, period. Its going to take months to get our border back from the cartels.
    Thank-you Biden,Harris and lets not forget Mayorkas the liar.

  2. Sounds like Green Eagle Railroad is just another name for UP subsidiary and BNSF and UP helping to build a new bridge to get away from CPkc raising prices to cross down the road. CPkc wanted more competition…. well, now they will get it and where they least expected it… Isn’t that ironic!

  3. A simple solution to the border problem is to fine each farmer, meat packer, roofing contractor, restaurant owner, etc., found using undocumented or illegal laborers. A fine of $1000 each or even $500 would certainly stop this practice and maybe even $100. However, the businesses need workers and normally support and influence a specific political party that complains mightly but doesn’t help resolve the problem.

    1. My waitress said she was from Cuba. The table next to me asked her how she got there. She said she took a ferry from Cuba to Honduras. She and her mom took a bus into Mexico. They hitchhiked and walked to the border and then waded across the Rio Grande. Border Patrol bused them to Houston for processing. They then called her aunt (her mom’s sister) in Florida on their cell phone and she drove over from Florida and picked them up and took them back to Florida.

      And that my friends is how it works.

    2. No, it would just mean more undocumented aliens. The solution is to keep them out in the first place an only allow those having documentation come into the US like all the other law abiding countries of the world. As long as the “Biden-crats” refuse to close the borders and administer a sensible plan, increase border security will be a big, political joke.

  4. Isn”t Mayor Pete in charge of transportation? Send his sorry butt down there to see whats going on. Never mind he”s probably on vacation.

  5. Immigration legal/illegal has been an issue for decades through admin of both parties & Congressional majorities of both parties. It’s a big s**t sandwich that gets passed around but nobody ever finishes because many businesses are reliant on this workforce for cheap labor doing jobs Americans don’t want to do because they feel such jobs beneath them & too hard for the pay offered.

  6. So apparently this problem lies with FXE’s ability (or commitment) to keep people from hopping northbound trains toward the border. Is KCSM doing something different (or better) to control the problem, or are they keeping a lower profile and the same problem goes unnoticed?

    1. It’s not that illegals are riding the trains. It’s CBP personnel being diverted from the rail crossings.

    2. This quote from CBP is included in all the news articles about the suspension, except for this article.
      “After observing a recent resurgence of smuggling organizations moving migrants through Mexico via freight trains, CBP is taking additional actions to surge personnel and address this concerning development, including in partnership with Mexican authorities.”

    3. There was a picture in the press showing a Ferromex consist going north with a group of BNSF hoppers. Each hopper had about 6-8 people (including women and children) sitting on top of them.

      There was another picture of a gondola with 30+ people sitting in side of it.

      Another picture showing a container train at the Ferromex yard in Piedro Negras with a couple of hundred men all trying to jump on while it moved.

      UP/BNSF/Ferromex made a big deal in the press about their new services via Eagle Pass, did they think immigrants couldnt read? They simply shifted to what they thought was a “new” opportunity to get across.

    1. It’s all about Politics and polemics….Washington Fiddles, and Rome is on fire…2024 is going to be a RIOT … .

  7. Has anyone sat down and figured out the true cost of failure of this administration to secure our borders ? Where do you start the accounting ? I hear a fiddler as Rome burns.

    1. It’s nothing new, every modern president has failed, because fences and walls do nothing. It’s conservative posturing, nothing more, to imply otherwise.

    2. BS Matthew. The Biden administration has dekiberately thrown the border wide open int he hopes of registering as many illegals as possible to illegally vote in our elections.

    3. That’s conspiracy theory mumbo jumbo Charles, don’t fall for that tired old nonsense. There’s no mass amounts of illegal immigrants voting in our presidential elections, thats fearmongering tactics from one specific party.

    4. Matthew,
      No one is saying mass numbers are gong to vote in the 2024 elections. But the goal of the current administration is to have them become citizens ASAP in key states like Texas and Florida to turn them permanently blue.

    1. CBP likes to throw their weight around, make mountains out of molehills. Gotta justify that post-9/11 budget somehow I guess. At least it’s UP & BNSF getting shafted the most here, not gonna cry for those scummy Class 1’s lol.

    2. Scummy Class I’s? How is it the railroads fault that government on both sides of the border fail in their duties to keep illegal alien hoards off of trains?

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